1) What is Self-Advocacy?

Definition of Self-Advocacy:

  • Self-Advocacy is, ‘[…]one form of advocacy, occurring any time people speak or act on their own behalf to improve their quality of life, effect personal change, or correct inequalities’” (Concunan-Lahr and Brotherson as cited in Brown, 1999).
  • Self-advocacy is referred to as the ability to articulate one’s needs and make informed decisions about the supports necessary to meet those needs (Strodden, as cited in Test et al, 2005).

Why is Self-Advocacy important for students:   

  • Adolescence is the usual period during which students without disabilities begin to question authority and generally move toward becoming autonomous, self-determined individuals (Wehmeyer, 1995).
  • Rather than breeding dependency, it is important that students with disabilities also be given opportunities to establish personal goals, make choices and become involved with the adults who have usually been making decisions for them (Wehmeyer, 1995).
  • In postsecondary school, it is considered the student’s responsibility to advocate for himself/herself. Therefore, self-advocacy training in previous grades is of paramount importance (Brown, 1999).
  • Self-advocacy skills are needed before commencing post-secondary education, which is usually a much larger, depersonalized setting. (Brown, 1999).
  • Learning self-advocacy skills also develops self-determination skills, which could foster increased personal satisfaction and happiness.
  • All students, whether or not they have a disability, must learn through opportunities and experiences to explore, take risks, learn from consequences, become self-motivated, develop positive self-esteem and gradually gain control over their lives. All students would benefit from being directly taught these skills at any age level.

Outcomes after implementing Strategies

  • Students are able to appropriately describe their abilities and needs, and the accommodations and assistance that support their learning.
  • Students are actively involved in setting realistic goals for their learning
  • Students stay in school longer
  • Many students attend post-secondary education
  • Students are successful in the workplace

History of the Self-Advocacy Movement:   

  • 1973 – A “People First” group formed in the USA- wanted to be recognized as people first, rather than as disabled people.
  • 1973 – British Columbia Association for the Mentally Handicapped organized first conference for people who had been “labelled”. http://www.peoplefirstofcanada.ca/growth_en.php
  • 1974 – First “People First” group in Canada began in British Columbia. http://www.peoplefirstofcanada.ca/growth_en.php
  • 1979 – Canadian Association for Community Living organized a self-advocacy workshop, the first of its kind for individuals who had been labelled. Some of these original self-advocates formed an alliance: the Consumer Advisory Committee for the Canadian Association for Community Living -stressed normalization and deinstitutionalization.
  • “The Arc” formed in the USA – an advocacy group for parents of individuals with disabilities.
  • 1980’s – many People First groups were formed across Canada and USA.
  • 1983 – “Self-Advocacy Development Project” began to help organize self-advocacy groups across Canada.
  • 1990 – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) initiated idea that individuals should be involved in their own future planning.
  • Research began to show a strong correlation between the development of self-advocacy skills and a successful transition to adult life. (Aune, 1991, Izzo & Lamb, 2002; Wehmeyer, 1992 as cited in Test et al., 2005.)
    • Research in the 1990’s indicated self-advocacy skills and opportunities to self-advocate were not frequently being offered (Test et al, 2005).

What research has been carried out to determine the effectiveness of self-advocacy training?

  • Little research has been gathered on the effectiveness of self-advocacy training programs, except there has been an increased number of students who have been more involved in preparing their Individual Education Plans.
  • The student’s ability to self-advocate might be correlated to personality characteristics, support from family and school, and the specific disability.
  • Professionals working with students who have an acquired brain injury have noted that sometimes these students are unable to independently self-advocate because of the complexity of the issues. (Ylvisaker et al, 1998).
  • Wehmeyer, Swartz, Browder, Test and others have claimed that self-determination skills have benefitted students in the long-term. Wehmeyer and Swartz found, “Individuals who scored higher on a measure of self-determination than their peers had more positive adult outcomes, such as a higher rate of employment and higher wages 1 year after graduation” (Browder et al., July/August, 2001).
  • The Division on Career Development and Transition of the Council for Exceptional Children in the USA stated in 1998, “Self-determination instruction during the elementary, middle and secondary transition years prepares all students for a more satisfying and fulfilling adult life” (Browder et al., July/August 2001).
  • Educational researchers have emphasized the importance of developing self-advocacy skills at younger ages (Battle, Kickens-Wright, & Murphy, 1998 as cited in Test et al, 2005).
  • “Literature also indicates that students need deliberate instruction in self-advocacy and self-determination” (Test et al, 2005).
  • ‘Pocock et al (2002) concluded that developing a school culture that supports emerging self-advocacy skills of students and provides opportunities to practice skills as they are taught and modeled in the classroom was the key to the success of their program” (Test et al, 2005).
  • Research has shown that teachers often support the concepts of self-advocacy, but lack the confidence to prepare students in this area, as well as the resources (Browder et al., July/August 2001).
  • Wehmeyer et all (2000) concluded, “There is a need to move beyond the pronouncements of the importance of the concept to offering teachers specific methods, materials and instructional strategies that enhance self-determination” (Browder et al., July/August 2001).

 How can teachers measure if student is using self-advocacy and effective strategies?

Programs for teaching self-advocacy skills need to measure if the student is actually implementing the strategies. Since each student with a disability is different, the list of measurable objectives would vary from student to student (Ylvisaker et al, 1998).

•    Measurement should be informal but continuous. For example, if students have just completed research on their respective disabilities, they should be able to state, both orally and in writing, the key points of the disability and five common terms associated with the disability.

•     Each student needs to set specific goals with measurable outcomes. Goals should be SMART: specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

•     Problem solve with each student to determine the best strategies to use to compensate for their learning challenges.

•     Design a personalized chart, so that each student can record if they are using the strategies and evaluate the effectiveness. Mark Ylvisaker, a well known researcher and author about acquired brain injury, devised a more generalized worksheet for students to complete (See figure 12.5). Teachers could adapt this worksheet to match the goals that an individual student has selected to address.

•     Mini-evaluations could be completed on a regular basis and reviewed with the teacher during individual conferencing time.

•     Identify each individual’s learning needs and possible accommodations to address those challenges. Encourage students to request the accommodations and record the frequency of self-advocating. (See figure 12.6.)

Ylvisaker, M. (1998). Cognitive Rehabilitation: Executive Functions. Traumatic brain injury rehabilitation: children and adolescents (2nd ed., pp. 221-269). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Identified Need Possible Accommodation(s)
Easily distracted; bothered by excessive   noise/movement Preferential seating away from noisy peers,   hallways, windows; allowing for his/her groups to meet outside the classroom;   provide printed outlines/lecture notes; provide quiet room for testing.
Initiation is difficult; tasks take longer to   complete; hard to stay on track Help to break down tasks into manageable steps;   provide interim due dates; allow for more time; provide flexible extensions   for larger projects; conference regularly; provide picture cues/checklists on   desk for younger students; do agenda checks; assign peer buddies; give longer   projects early; allow more time for reading longer texts.
Poor concentration/attention Provide photocopied notes; provide important   instruction in short segments; review new learning numerous times and in a   multimodality approach; allow for short work sections; allow for breaks from   the classroom; provide important information in written format.
Hearing impairments Use a FM System; preferential seating; face students   when giving important information; provide important information in writing;   provide clarification.

Figure 12.6

•     Role playing can also be used as an effective method of assessment to help determine if a student is able to advocate for change. The following list of scenarios could be used to practice effective communication and self-advocacy skills:

  1. The novel being assigned in your English class is longer than you will be able to read in the expected time period. You must try to convince your teacher to let you start the novel earlier than the rest of the class.
  2. You are part of a group in your History class. Three other students want to do a project that will not be very challenging and will not earn a very respectable grade. You want to convince them that your idea is a better one.
  3. Although you are a year younger than the requirements, you know that you are an excellent basketball player and could be an asset to the school team. How could you describe your strengths and request an opportunity to try out for the team?
  4. You do not like being singled out by your teacher at the end of each class when she asks if you are okay and if you understood the lesson. How can you tell her you appreciate her concern, but you would prefer to speak with her quietly, only when you have a concern?
  5. Your parents will not let you stay alone at any time of the day, although you are 14. How could you convince them to trust your abilities?

•     Videotaping the role playing scenarios provides a way to assess a student’s communication skills: assertiveness (vs. aggressiveness), negotiation, articulation, body language, use of assistive technology, listening, persuasion and compromise.

•     Measure if students can develop their scripts independently, before self-advocating.

•     The final measurement would be if the student could advocate for their needs and rights at an IPRC meeting. In her article, “Reviewing Resources on Self-Determination”, Browder briefly describes the 5-step strategy of IPARS, which prepares students to participate in their IEP meeting. Self-Directed IEP (ChoiceMaker Curriculum, Martin et al, 1996) includes lessons plans for teaching students to lead their own IEP meetings (Browder et al., 2001).

•     List self-advocacy and self-determination skills as goals on the IEP. This provides a built-in system for tracking and monitoring. (Browder et al., 2001).

•     Note: Measurement tools are likely to be subjective, so keeping the student and his/her goals at the centre of the process is important. This is especially important to remember when working with students of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Having an independent sense of self in Anglo-American cultures may not have the same credence as understanding self in relationship to others in Asian, Latino and Native American cultures. Thus, perceiving the need for self-advocacy and the motivation to learn the various skills may vary accordingly. Measurement tools need to correspond to the needs and personal goals of each student (Browder et al.,2001).

•     Guest speakers, videotapes and/or having students write about their experiences of advocating in real-life settings would provide important resources to students starting to use self-advocating skills. Such testimonies could help evaluate effectiveness of training programs.

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